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What Is a Read Receipt?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

A read receipt is a notification sent by an email program to the sender of an email that the email he or she sent has been opened by the recipient. Many modern email programs and clients do not support this type of message since some people may consider it to be an invasion of privacy, as the receipt may be sent automatically when the email is opened. Even those programs that do support this type of receipt may not always work since the person receiving the email must also be using a program that supports them. A read receipt is often provided by smaller communication networks, such as corporate email and messaging systems.

Also known as a message disposition notification (MDN), a read receipt is a message, usually in the form of an email, which notifies the sender of an email that it was opened. This is only supported by certain email services, and to work properly the person sending the email and the one receiving it must both be using services that support such receipts. The read receipt process basically begins when the sender of an email includes a command or request for notification on opening the sent email.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Once someone opens the email message, the system automatically generates a read receipt in the form of an email message, which is sent to the original sender of the email. This allows the sender to know that the email was opened and, theoretically, read, and often includes the date and time the email was opened. Some systems can, instead, provide information about when an email was opened or read on the sender’s copy of the original email message, though this typically requires a single system handling all aspects of sending and receiving the message. A corporate email system, for example, can utilize such a method, as one system oversees all aspects of the email process.

While a read receipt can typically only be sent if both the sender and receiver are using systems that support such receipts, there are programs that can force a receipt to be sent. These are typically third-party programs that may require action by the reader when he or she opens an email. This then sends a message to the original sender that the email has been opened. Such methods may be considered intrusive by some recipients, however. As they often use procedures similar to those used with spam messages, they should typically be avoided.

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